Les Petits Chefs: The inspiration

I know, I know, TWO Petits Chefs posts in the space of days.  But I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a little but about why I decided to start the cooking club in the first place.  Last November, I heard Jamie Oliver speak in Toronto (I wrote about it here), mainly about his Food Revolution and “Pass it On” campaign.  Throughout that talk I kept on thinking how irresponsible it would be of me to NOT take part (even in a tiny, drop-in-the-ocean kind of way) in Jamie’s Revolution and a few short weeks later, Les Petits Chefs was born.  I mean, I am not the world’s greatest or most knowledgeable cook but I do know my way around a kitchen (or in this case, a science lab/kitchen!).  Why not pass on some basic skills to the students I have to offer a club to anyway?  It’s been the greatest thing – very often, the highlight of my teaching week (and certainly a bonus for the boys’ parents who look forward to tasting our creations each week!) and a wonderful way for the boys to get to know me outside the classroom, doing something I love (which can only be a good thing!).

I was fortunate enough to hear Jamie speak again in Toronto last week (with an upgrade to a VIP ticket courtesy of The Art of Cooking) and whilst it was a very different scene ( can you say 3500 people – it was more like a rock concert than a Q&A with a famous chef) with a fair number of repeat stories from last year, the message was still inspirational and re-convinced me that even baby steps towards “passing it on” and the Food Revolution are so worthwhile.

After a lengthy (and, for me, unnecessary) “support act” by Bob Blumer which ran overtime, Jamie conducted the entire evening as a rather off-the-cuff Q&A, answering questions submitted by the audience, running overtime himself, given the sheer volume of questions (though he probably only got through about 20-30).  As he spoke, he also demoed two dishes from his gorgeous new book, Jamie’s America (which you can buy on Amazon US or Amazon Canada) – a Peruvian red snapper ceviche and a steak with both a peanut sauce and a chopped salsa.

Watching him cook was mesmerizing – it was simply so effortless (with super knife skills to boot) and you *nearly* forgot you were in a room with 3499 of your closest friends 😉  He gave tips and tricks as he cooked, some of the more memorable ones being:

* All you really need in terms of knives are sturdy, balanced carving (12″), chef (10″) and paring knives with good weight.  These three knives will get you out of 99% of trouble in the kitchen.

* Don’t be shy of the salt in ceviche – after all, you’re not going to drink the juice, just cook the fish in it;

* Oil the steak, not the pan you cook it in;

* Season the steak by rubbing it with a  garlic clove as it cooks, just after you turn it when the fat is “dancing” atop the meat, then “spank” your steak with a sprig of rosemary that you have rubbed in the cooking fat;

* Oil the cutting board you will use for your steak and add some herbs.  As you cut and rest the meat, it will absorb these flavours.

Jamie was entertaining and charming throughout, despite some rather inane questions (which, props to him, he refused to answer -“You can’t ask someone what is their favourite country to eat in, it’s like asking them to name their favourite child. Impossible.”) and I loved how unprepared and unscripted it was. A few times, he actually just said “I don’t know” which I think is very endearing.  As a teacher, I have learned there is nothing more important than being able to say “I don’t know, let me find out” and being ok with that. At the end of the day, your students will respect you so, whilst some audience members might not have been satisfied with  such an answer, I much preferred it to a scripted “right” answer.

It was very unfortunate that the whole evening was running so overtime as the advertised hour-long VIP reception ended up being only a short time with Jamie present (+/- 15 minutes), during which a (very) few lucky people were afforded the elusive picture with Jamie or an autograph, whilst others used up “question time” proclaiming how much they love Jamie. Which I get, yes, but it’s not a question. Many left that reception disappointed that Jamie didn’t sign books personally, or answer their questions (that would be me) and sad that he wasn’t able to spend more time in the VIP reception.

In any case, I know that I am very lucky to have been able to hear him speak twice in the space of a year and, like I try to model for my own students, took away some ideas and thoughts that really resonated with me and which bring me to this week’s Petits Chefs recipe.

Jamie said: “The Naked Chef kitchen might have looked lovely on telly but it was rubbish.”  I *loved* hearing this!  When I look at what we produce in club each week, I am totally amazed, given that most weeks, we use portable single burners in our science lab and pots and pans and utensils from the dollar store.  Jamie also says with about $100 of pantry items and a couple of good pots and pans, you can work miracles.  According to Jamie, “ten to 20 minutes is more than enough time to put out a healthy meal” – as we prove weekly.  Yesterday we started at 3.10pm. By 3.40pm we were cooking, with cleanup over and by 3.50pm we were doling out portions in Tupperwares.  “Kids aren’t born programmed to eat only nuggets,” claims Jamie – this week’s recipe included jalapeño peppers – not at all scary for my intrepid little chefs who proclaimed “Yessss!” when they saw them.  Even Michael, who had a bit of an upset with some onion fingers rubbing in his eyes earlier this term was proof positive of Jamie’s “Just get in there” message, clamouring to be the one to chop the pepper (and doing a damned fine job at it – and not touching his eyes ONCE! Go Michael!)


And the result of our “under 1 hour with eight little people under the age of 11 in the lab”?

Yes, as Henry proclaimed, “so pretty”.

I didn’t actually take pictures of the making of the rice – we added some scrambled egg into the rice as per the recipe which the boys were fascinated with.  Me? I was having so much fun that the camera sat by its lonesome for much of this week’s session. But that’s ok because Jamie says we need to “have fun with food” which I clearly was.

Jamie, I wasn’t able to say this last week in Toronto, but thank you. From me, the boys, their parents, their future girlfriends and wives. We are truly grateful.

I am thrilled to announce I have made it to Round 8 of Project Food Blog. I am one of 24 people left from an original 600 contestants.  Thank you all for reading and voting (and watching my video!) – my next post (getting creative with baked goods featuring pumpkin) will be up next Sunday.

46 thoughts on “Les Petits Chefs: The inspiration”

  1. I love this post Mardi! It’s great to hear about why you were inspired to start the cooking club and the recap of seeing Jamie Oliver. How exciting is that?! And the recipe you all made looks incredibly delicious. I’m definitely trying that one out!

    Congrats on making it to the next round! I’m so excited for you and can’t wait to read your entry. 🙂

  2. I like his message but have never really gotten into him. I’m glad he inspired you to put your drop in the ocean because in the end its changes that individuals make that make any change happen.

    I watched Food Matters the other day and couldn’t help but think about his message and how healthy eating just isn’t a priority for many sectors on modern society because there is no money in it.

    Too bad. I like eating fresh food!


  3. Aww, I love your enthusiasm.
    I just got Jamie’s Ministry Of Food out of the library. I hadn’t seen the TV programme or campaign before. It’s great to hear that it has inspired people like you to do great things to pass it on.
    I am doing a lot of cooking with my two boys so I know they will be able to feed themselves good, healthy meals. I’ll have to get thinking about how I can pass it on to others.

  4. Love the recipe, will be on my to-do list.

    When I first arrived in Toronto 10 years ago Jamie had a book signing at the Yonge/Eglinton Indigo and I foolishly only went there an hour before – needless to say I didn’t get in. Would have loved to have attended this event.

  5. Oh my goodness! Your Jamie session made ours in NYC look like a tiny coffee chat! Ours was only a media event and didn’t have more than maybe 70 people there. Excellent recap as always though!

  6. Such a big fan of Jamie & am one of the lucky chefs to have met him and eaten at his great food, I love his message, his cookbooks, his programs and well….. he’s been one of my big inspirations in this industry. Love that you’ve shared all this and Jamie has inspired you to act on it. Thanks.

  7. I loved hearing you write that Jamie said the Naked Chef kitchen was rubbish. Totally agreed, if your head and heart are in it, you can do a lot with just a little. I’m beginning to believe that cooking is a peak performance activity. Thanks for sharing your notes and pictures.

  8. Glad to hear Mr. Oliver’s willing to say “I don’t know.” I find that really endearing in a teacher, and it makes me trust him or her more. Glad to hear you agree. Congrats on the round of 24. That’s pretty amazing, but I didn’t expect any less. Pumpkin, huh. Curiouser and curiouser.

  9. Every time you write about Les Petites Chef it’s your most ‘from the heart’ posting. JO gets a lot of lot of bashing but he’s put himself on the line for things he believes in. Good for you for doing something too.

  10. I’m with you, Mardi. I don’t think I’m a great cook/baker but the best hour of my week is the one I spend with my 6 yo baker! I think that passing on my knowledge is something important. More than knowledge, though, I feel we are passing on our passion and our feelings about food! The idea that it’s not just something that you need to eat to survive. I always love for example make the kids smell and touch every ingredients we will use. They learn to appreciate food in a whole different way.

  11. You are an inspiration and you are making an imprint on the lives of not only your students but on your little group of chefs. They did a fantastic job on the recipe.

  12. this may be one of my favorite posts of yours yet. i love how he has inspired you to start your cooking group and to teach your boys lessons that will carry them far beyond the kitchen. bravo to both you and jamie oliver!

  13. Maybe I need to rethink this whole not-eating-beef thing. I really want to spank some steak.

    Also, I’m soon going to be buying some actual proper real adult fancy good knives, so I’m glad to hear him say what I already thought to be the case.
    (So excited! Actual good knives!!!)


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